Sometimes I think tabbed internet browsing was simultaneously the best and worse thing to happen to the internet. You could always open things in new windows, but tabs are definitely easier to navigate (and way cooler). I myself am guilty of having approximately 5-7 tabs open at any given time. Not to mention the PDF I recently downloaded, my novel for NaNo, a random Word doc, iTunes, and I’m about to open another tab to look something up (you’re welcome for the unsolicited information about my computer screen). So what am I actually getting done? Well, nothing really. You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve been working on this blog post, mostly because I keep getting distracted by other things and returning to it later.
The ability the internet grants us to be constantly looking at all kinds of different information is one aspect of the idea of information overload that intrigues me. It is always pulling our attention in different directions, from both our computers and, increasingly, smartphones. “Answer this email,” it says; “Watch this Netflix show,” “Read these news articles posted on Twitter by people you like,” “Check out this shiny thing and this other shiny thing and that one too!” The internet allows for and encourages constant immersion and connectedness. Perhaps some of us are more susceptible than others, as I’m sure there are plenty of people who don’t turn their computer on first thing in the morning, don’t check email first, have mastered the art of opening one news article at a time and reading it all the way through before doing something else. But I will be right up there among the people admitting that I have not. I’ve said before that I don’t even think I’m very good at the internet, with regards to my haphazard approach to social media, email, and blogging – yet internet activities still manage to take up the majority of my time. I read Brain Pickings,* I check the news, I check the #citylis Twitter feed, I play games and read webcomics – and this will turn into a terribly awful run-on sentence if I keep going. Point made.
When I try to do all of these things at once, as I frequently do despite knowing I can’t multitask, none of them gets done very well. There have been studies like this one at UCLA about the internet and the way we use it actually rewiring our brains. Rewiring them, y’all. That’s some crazy stuff – I don’t even think we could possibly make a value judgement on whether it’s good or bad at this point. But it’s certainly true that human brains are not good at multitasking, yet here we are doing it at a pace never before seen, with more and more information and distractions at our fingertips (here’s information about another study from Stanford). There are apparently really interesting essays about the internet in this book, but I haven’t read any of them. I just wanted to find cool things to link to so I wasn’t pulling all of this out of my head and class notes. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by how much access the internet doesn’t just grant, but demands? And how do you avoid it if not?
The other aspects of information overload I hope to cover are more to do with the sheer amount of information available, rather than this one method of looking at it. So stay tuned if you’re interested.
*This site is awesome. Sorry for adding to your internet overload, but you should probably read it. I linked to the most recent article I liked; your mileage may vary.
p.s. Totally unrelated, I found cranberries. Everyone can relax now.
p.p.s. I will make some of my next posts lots of gratuitous Cuddle Cthulhu pictures, since I’m sure y’all miss that sneaky little devil. He’s been lazy and didn’t come to Edinburgh with me this time, but we’ll go on adventures soon. Myrcell too. = )